Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer
Ollie McNeil used to be a person, or so the rumors said. He came to the glades when the glades could still grow grass, before the floating villages, when the mosquitoes were smaller than the shrimp and the shrimp were safe to eat. Not that Ollie ate, of course. He got everything he needed from the windmill.
Jake called him Old Man Ollie, though he was only kind of a man. No one could dispute the old part, though: his human eye was like smoked-over glass and his lips curled in where his teeth used to be, lending a slurred twang to his language. Composed mostly of metal, Ollie was too heavy to go out in the boats, but his strength and precision made him useful in other ways. He was the only Glader strong enough to pull the barge in before a storm, and he could knot a net even faster than Mrs. Johnson, much to Mrs. Johnson’s dismay.
Like most of the Glader children, Jake knew of Old Man Ollie before he was old enough to swim, but he didn’t meet the man until a drowning fever tore through the village when he was eight. After his father choked in his sleep, Jake was sent away from the floating village and left to wait in a sickhouse on the muddy shore, to die or live depending on the whims of the fever. Only Old Man Ollie knocked on the door, bringing dried fish and purified water fresh from the windmill’s filter.
“Ain’t you afraid of getting sick?” Jake asked as he tore into on the leathery meat.
“Can’t catch the drowning if you don’t have lungs,” Ollie said with a shrug, and although the gesture carried a faint pneumatic hiss, its warmth was like porridge after a week on the ponds. Immediately, Jake’s fear of the half-man vanished, and despite the village’s best efforts, it never returned. If Old Man Ollie was an outcast, then Young Man Jake would be an outcast as well.
Most of Ollie’s time was taken up with maintaining the windmill, which jutted out of the muddy pond like an ancient castle and was even older than he was. Unlike the Gladers, he could make sense of the symbols and digits on the ancient displays, and he always seemed to know when a wire needed to be redrawn. The windmill spun slowly, lazily, but it generated an immense power that hummed through its deepest core and could be stored in white coffin-like slabs, sleeping until a need arose. These slabs seemed to cause Old Man Ollie an endless amount of misery.
“Capacity’s down,” he’d mutter, and Jake would nod in sympathy. This was a common refrain, and as far as Jake could tell, there wasn’t anything to be done about it. There was also “gotta run the cycle,” which sounded mostly harmless, and rarely, “wind’s gonna overload ‘em,” which was much more urgent and was followed by a scramble to disconnect wires at the top of the structure. The windmill was an essential part of the village’s life: it powered electric lights and fans that stirred the miasmatic air in the summer heat, but most importantly, it ran the water purifier. It also ran Ollie, who drew power a few nights a week using a wire in his arm.
Although he spent his spare time at the windmill, Jake’s job was on the ponds, pulling in nets and traps with the others who were old enough to work, but too young to start a family. That’s where he was when he noticed the first signs of the storm.
“We should head in,” he said. Surprisingly, the others agreed. Storms were common but this one seemed ominous: the horizon was hidden behind dark sheets of rain, and the clouds boiled red in the setting sun.
By the time Jake made it to the windmill, Old Man Ollie was well into the task of managing wires. “Give me a hand,” he called, and Jake obeyed. By the time the white slabs were fully disconnected the rain had reached the Glade and the wind whipped against the building like a wet rag, creating heavy sounds that rain had no business making.
“Big one,” Jake said, and Old Man Ollie nodded. He was watching the slabs with a dull frown, and he raised an arm to scratch the rippled skin below his eye.
“They’re still losing capacity,” he said.
“The batteries. Look. They’ve been off for an hour and they’re already down to 96 percent.” He pointed at a lighted panel beside one of the slabs, and although Jake didn’t understand, he gave a nod of agreement.
“What are you gonna do?” he asked.
Ollie was silent. Jake stood up to take a closer look at the panel, as if the bars and rings meant anything at all.
“You can just plug them back in, right? After the storm’s over?”
“Yeah,” Ollie said, but he didn’t sound convinced. “Yeah, sure, we can plug them back in. They’re going to keep losing capacity, though. One day they’ll run dry and they won’t hold a charge at all.” He leaned against the wall, which groaned slightly at his weight, and Jake settled onto a heap of nets waiting for repair.
“That’s a long way off, though, right?” Jake asked.
“Fifty years or so,” Ollie said. “Maybe sixty. We’ll see.”
“So a long way.”
“You could say that. Sure.”
The rain continued, and Jake could hear the windmill’s blades creaking as they strained against the gale. It seemed like the storm would go on forever, the way storms always do, but Jake knew the morning would break red and angry and the lake would be full of fish, full of detritus, full of opportunity. They’d reconnect the wires and the white slabs would fill up again, just like before. Everything would be fine.
“You worry too much,” Jake finally said.
“I do,” agreed Old Man Ollie. “I do.”
Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer
There are two things I hate about a job like this: Carrie, and the viewer-at-home.
That’s not true. There are dozens of things I hate: network executives, directors, producers, footage editors with their nasally little ‘we could have used a little better resolution here. ” I hate pretty much everyone involved in a documentary, but it’s the viewer-at-home who matters. Once that viewer decides they don’t like Carrie, don’t like fish, or don’t like learning, all of us are out of a job.
“There’s the entrance!” Carrie squeals. If nothing else, she has enthusiasm.
It’s a low-budget gig. Unlike Carrie up ahead, who was lucky enough to be female, skinny, blond, and (of lesser importance) a marine biologist, Tommy-crap-for-lighting and Joe-the-assistant-camera-guy (that’s me) actually have to lug junk into these tunnels. The sound guy and lead cameraman are resting cozy on the boat, practically retired.
“Over here,” she calls, swimming smoothly over a long-still turnstile and into the submerged station lobby. I bring the cameras around an ancient ticket machine but find nothing more than a ragged hole, smaller than a kid’s fist. “There are thousands of these,” Carrie continues, looking at my headcam. Who the hell wears makeup underwater? “Even though their slowed metabolism gives them twenty or thirty minutes underwater, the skeletal structure hasn’t changed much. If it weren’t for these nests, they’d make easy dinner for anything down here. A single Long Island Crocodile could take out a whole school in seconds.
Great. Crocodiles. I really ought to read a pamphlet or two about this junk before strapping on the cam and jumping overboard.
My comm beeps and the cameraman patches in, private to me and Tommy. “Can we get a shot of these rats?”
“Carrie, they want rats,” I say, switching frequencies.
“Be patient.” Her primary concerns always involve creatures lacking higher brain function.
“She says be patient.”
“We’re working overtime here,” he says. I hear the hiss of a bottle opening.
On the main channel, Carrie’s still rambling science. “Marine biologists continue their search for the secrets of the tunnel rat,” she says. “Despite intensive study, their rapid evolution remains a mystery, and we can only hope that in decades to come-”
“Joe, can you get a better shot of that hole?” Tommy comms.
Carrie, caught up in describing the rats’ miraculously pathetic life, doesn’t notice as I clickswitch my handcam to fisheye without turning my helmet camera from her face.
And then, Tommy delivers a kick to the ticket machine with so much force that I have no idea how he pulled it off with flippers.
They crawl and swim, dozens, maybe hundreds, not just from the hole but from the ticket slot as well, from unseen gaps behind and beneath the machine. An emptying hive of nearly hairless grey and pink rodents, tails swishing and feet scrabbling for purchase as a stream of bubbles trail upward from a corner.
“That’s what we need!” open-comms the cameraman. “We can edit out that kick, right?”
Only the glow of Tommy’s sidelight lets me see Carrie shake her head. “You can’t just empty a whole colony like that!” she says, voice weak. “Do you have any idea how territorial–”
“Look, Carr, we’re making a documentary here,” comes a new voice, the assistant director. Asshole must have been monitoring everything.
“They’ll only invade another colony, and–”
“Let the marine biologists worry about that junk, okay? All of you, back to the boat, and–”
“I am a marine biologist.”
“Back to the boat. Now.”
It’s a month until filming starts on Carrie’s next Learning Channel adventure, and hopefully, it’ll be somewhere warm.
Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer
My husband doubts the existence of history. I wonder why I married this man.
When I woke up to the banshee-screech of a bandsaw, I assumed we were getting another door. He likes that too, building doors. But, when I came downstairs in a yellow bathrobe hoping he’d brewed a morning pot, I found no coffeemaker. In fact, I found no kitchen appliances. Nor did I find a husband, though a sign reading “time machine” was taped to the garage door.
“Progress calls, sweetheart,” he yelled from the garage. “Many scientific innovations have failed due to lack of funding.”
“You don’t believe in history.”
“I believe that history, if it exists at all, is subjective, but more likely, each instant is a singular point of awareness suspended in-”
“All right, honey,” I said.
“It’s entirely different,” he said. “Also, don’t go into the garage.”
One might wonder how my husband learned so much about time, space, or mechanical engineering. Since most modern philosophers discount his beliefs about the former two and he still hasn’t fixed the dishwasher (won’t, now), one might do well to dismiss that curiosity.
But if he is anything, it’s determined.
After returning from Starbucks with the sense of patience possessed only by those who expect their wealthy in-laws to replace their kitchen appliances, I was greeted by a man with curly, powdered hair.
“Bonjour, madame,” he said.
I knocked on the door to the garage. “There is a Frenchman in my kitchen,” I said.
“Well, so long as you know.”
“Thanks, dear,” he said.
My husband isn’t good with sarcasm.
I sat the man in the living room, set the television to Nickelodeon, and went upstairs to read. I let my husband deal with his own problems, until the police or fire department get involved.
When I finished my book, the living room was filled with Frenchmen. Again, I knocked on the garage door.
“There are more Frenchmen,” I said.
“Where did they come from?”
I needed more coffee. “Did you invent a time machine?” I asked him.
“Even though you don’t believe in time?”
“Are you going to send them back?”
“As soon as I invent an un-time machine,” he told me.
“Maybe you should invent someone who knows what they’re doing.”
The silence suggested he believed that science did not concern women.
Since I couldn’t cook without an oven, stove, or microwave, I ordered pizza for the Frenchmen. All in all, they didn’t seem disturbed by the displacement-in-time thing.
The next day, I found not just Frenchmen, but several Russians as well.
“Honey, there are Russians in my living room,” I said.
“I know.” I heard a whirring sound, then a thud. “I’ve almost got the ‘specific time’ thing down.”
“And this will empty out my living room?”
“I’m getting Americans next,” he said. “I heard that they both did some crazy stuff during the Cold War.”
“It’s not like I believed in history,” he said, cross.
I went to buy coffee. I also bought several boxes of donuts. The Frenchmen were still transfixed by the television. The Russians, from several points in time, were eagerly exchanging stories. In the garage, my husband was negotiating his own little cold war. I took a leisurely stroll and had reached the town park when the solution occurred to me. I hurried home to tell my husband.
“Dear,” I said.
“I’m busy, darling.”
“Why don’t you invent a future time machine, and ask someone how to do it right?”
There was a long silence. “I don’t believe in the future, sweetheart,” he said.
The voices in the garage resumed.
Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer
Nate Sorelli ruled the playground like Napoleon ruled France: with an iron fist and a mind like a laser-cut scalpel. With the knowledge of Sun Tzu and strategies selectively culled from the Roman and British Empires, Nate Sorelli was an architect and a general. He had a loyal army of boys who let no one tread on his territory, and his territory didn’t stop at the schoolyard’s boundaries. To the colony’s children, it was Nate Sorelli and not his parents who owned all of Shi.
In the early days of the colony, physicians played it fast and loose. Frontier medicine had different rules, and when his early tests showed mild retardation, his parents didn’t even need to pull strings. The neural implant had never been approved for children, but if Nate Sorelli was any indicator, that lack of approval was a terrible oversight.
Nate had a network. He didn’t need to threaten kids for their lunch money: they willingly handed it over. A quirk of his lips could start and end playground fights, but Nate never threw a punch. He didn’t like getting his hands dirty.
The teachers, too, were under his thumb. They didn’t realize it, of course, but he could redirect lessons with a few choice words, and he steered the curriculum like a rudder steers a boat. They thought it was their idea to move him to the C class with the older kids, and the following year, they thought they made the decision to bump him up to B. There wasn’t a test he couldn’t ace. The colony’s library had been committed to memory, and the only thing keeping the wealth of the internet out of his mind was the communication delay between Shi and Earth. It was no surprise when the home world sent a team of doctors to study him.
The study lasted three minutes: as long as it took to process the data from the CAT scan. Three Shi doctors lost their licenses. His parents were fined extensively, and paid twice that in bribes to maintain custody of their son.
Despite the setback, he maintained his rule. The other children continued to revere him, and although the scandal was teachers’ lounge gossip for weeks, they considered the decline in test scores a result of the stress of publicity. No one saw the first cracks in his empire. Certainly not Nate Sorelli.
Lunch money came more slowly. Paper bills turned to coins, which turned to crinkled wrappers. Without funding, the army of children grew restless, but it was over a month before they disbanded. There was no coup. No new ruler, no interim leader. Political issues were eclipsed by video games and dodgeball. The teachers noticed the change, but there were no complaints. The other kids’ performance improved. Overall, Shi’s school was well-ranked among the colonies.
At recess, Nate Sorelli took to playing jacks. His reflexes were still sharp, and he liked the smooth texture of the rubber ball. His previous loyal subjects played hopscotch and football in the nearby field as his hand shot out, snatching three silver stars before catching the ball in its descent.
Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer
They’d followed the grishna since the beginning of time. Their elders described uncountable days and night, each lasting several lifetimes, since the first keeper had been formed from hard-packed snow and melted by the grishna’s breath. They had never neglected their duty. They hibernated with the large creature, curled up in a vast pile of limbs between the grishna’s tusks, and when they woke they gathered food to care for the endless being. It never spoke. It was a god, so it never had to. When they spoke it was in whispers and gestures, mimicking the silent movement of the grishna’s several mouths with the one tongue they possessed, and this was what fascinated the linguists.
The first outsider came during night, while they slept. Before they awoke a half-dozen had arrived, with boxes that trapped voices and forced them to perform at will and other boxes that clicked and whirred, frightening the grishna. Once, it tore through the outsiders’ enclave, reducing their boxes to brightly colored shards, but everything was quickly replaced.
With time, they learned to live with the newcomers. The grishna adjusted to their presence, and the keepers followed suit. They accepted that the new beings must have been charged to follow them in the same way they were charged to follow the grishna, so they did not interfere.
The first word the linguists learned indicated the most solid snow, the kind that could best hold the grishna’s weight. The kind they’d been carved from, at the dawn of time. The second word was the word for heat, particularly the heat of the grishna, though they believed it also applied to fire. After that, the words came quickly, and although the outsiders lacked the limb used to indicate the passage of time, they could communicate their origin.
And the keepers communicated theirs.
More arrived. Too many to count. Again, the grishna was frightened. Again, the grishna adjusted. The linguists offered food in exchange for words spoken into the box, and the keepers no longer foraged. The grishna was fed as well, food that it seemed to prefer to what the keepers had always gathered. The outsiders were no longer outsiders. They became a part of life. Some of the keepers learned the methods of the boxes, some even learned the second language. They were told about the light, how it came from far away, and how the stars did not mark the days of the grishna’s life. New words were created, to describe new ideas and new objects. When the first one was taken away to be studied, he returned with stories that terrified and thrilled the others.
All of them wanted to see the lights and feel the nauseating movement. Many of them did. The elders waited for this to pass, knowing that all things passed, but some of the younger ones never returned. If they did, they wore coverings over their fur in shades no keeper had seen. They no longer hibernated. They spoke words no keeper’s tongue should be able to form. The grishna grew restless. Nobody studied the grishna.
When the elders left, the linguists noted it with interest. The smaller footsteps of the oldest keepers made small indentations in the larger footsteps of the grishna as they walked away from the lights and boxes just before another uncounted nightfall. They’d followed the grishna since the beginning of time. They had never neglected their duty.